The United States and Cuba said Friday that they will re-establish direct mail service between the two countries for the first time in more than a half century, the latest sign of thawing relations between the long-time adversaries.
In separate statements, the State Department and the Cuban embassy in Washington said the agreement was reached Thursday during discussions in Miami. It calls for a pilot program to provide mail flights between the United States and Cuba, rather than routing mail through a third country as has been done for decades.
But the details remained sketchy. Though both sides agreed that the details will be finalized within several weeks, the Cuban statement said the two countries are still discussing unspecified “technical, operational and safety aspects” of expanded mail service. It also said both sides share “the hope of eventually institutionalizing” mail service “on a permanent basis in the future.” The U.S. statement only referred to the pilot program.
There was also a hint of the tensions that defined the U.S.-Cuban relationship since Fidel Castro came to power more than five decades ago and throughout the Cold War. An article from Cuba’s official news service, Prensa Latina, said the Cuban delegation at Thursday’s session with the United States “presented several examples that prove the damages” to the island nation from the ongoing U.S. economic embargo, a subject on which the U.S. and Cuba clashed as recently as October at the United Nations.
The State Department statement was notably brief, and U.S. officials declined to elaborate on any remaining issues between the two countries or provide details of what types of mail service will be resumed. The U.S. Postal Service issued a short statement saying it is “pleased to participate in the historic direct transportation of mail service to Cuba beginning this month. The mail-related details are still being finalized.”
Still, the agreement marked another step in the historic process of normalizing U.S.-Cuban relations, which President Obama announced in December 2014 after 18 months of secret negotiations. A key part of the president’s second-term legacy, the move began dismantling a last pillar of the Cold War while drawing sharp criticism from many Republicans.
Since then, Secretary of State John F. Kerry has presided over the official reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Cuba, and the two nations have taken other steps such as this week’s breakthrough discussions over a possible settlement for $1.9 billion worth of American assets seized by Castro’s government in the early 1960s, as well as other claims built up over years of strained relations.
As for mail, direct postal service between the United States and Cuba was suspended in 1963, the year the Kennedy administration tightened the trade embargo on Cuba and made all but a sliver of travel there illegal for American citizens. Since then, the U.S. Postal Service has been unable to deliver mail directly to Cubans and has had to route letters and packages through third countries. The service is widely known to be slow and unreliable.
International express mail is not available, and an entire page of the postal service website still lays out various other restrictions, including how eligible gift parcels destined for Cuba can only include things such as food, medicines and “personal hygiene items.”